Monday, March 26, 2012

Behind A Garden Wall: The Wesley Memorial Garden

Wesley Memorial Garden entrance - St. Simon's, GA

"About 3:00 in the afternoon, I first set foot on St. Simons Island and immediately my spirit revived." Charles Wesley, March 9, 1736.

My sentiments exactly when I visited, about the same hour, the Wesley Memorial Garden, "Dedicated To the Glory of God and in memory of the Reverends John and Charles Wesley."

John Wesley (1703-1791), M.A., Lincoln College, Oxford, was a priest of the Church of England. He was appointed to be a missionary to the Colony of Georgia. Though he wanted to be a missionary to the Indians, General James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony, assigned him to minister in Savannah. He was rector of Christ Church, Anglican, Savannah, from 1736 through 1737. John traveled occasionally to St. Simons to minister. He is most famous as a founder of Methodism.

John's brother, Charles Wesley (1707-1788), M.A., Christ Church College, Oxford, was also a priest of the Church of England, the first minister at Frederica on St. Simons. Charles was appointed as Oglethorpe's Secretary For Indian Affairs in 1736. Charles is best known as a Christian hymn writer and a co-founder of Methodism.

In 1984, A.W. Jones, Jr. proposed a gift of 20 acres to be divided equally between Christ Church, Frederica and the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church providing that the two come together to create a memorial honoring the Wesley brothers. Each set aside one acre for the project, and established a foundation to maintain the memorial garden. The garden was designed and the construction overseen by Henry Derriel Green and Candace Brewer. The focal point of the garden is an 18', 15 ton Celtic cross, cut from Elberton, Georgia granite.

There are two ways for visitors to enter the garden. The most obvious is through the front, flanked by garden walls of tabby and brick. The celtic cross is immediately visible. Gravel paths approach and surround the monument, and lead through a garden of over 4,000 azaleas, boxwoods and other shrubs. Camellias, ferns, suitable perennials and annuals provide seasonal interest.

The other visitor approach is from a parking lot directly across the street from Christ Church, Frederica. Here the entrance is marked by a bronze plaque mounted on a tabby pile, and another bronze plaque recognizing Alfred W. Jones, Sr. (1902-1982) and Katherine T. Jones (1903-1986) whose vision made the memorial possible. This is the approach I prefer because it provides a short woodland walk through a native forest ornamented by azaleas and other species. A monumental muscadine vine drapes a tree immediately inside the entrance. If you take this approach, stay on the gravel path. Poison ivy lurks.

Bignonia capreolata, Gelsemium sempervirens and Wisteria sinensis may be blooming in spring. Bignonia is the least obvious, usually flowering high above the head, and barely visible unless fallen blossoms are noticed on the ground.

On two acres, you can walk through the garden, be in and out in less than 15 minutes. That might be all you want if you have no interest in the Wesley brothers, if the flowering shrubs aren't in bloom, or if the mosquitoes and gnats are swarming. Otherwise, there are benches for rest and contemplation.

The Wesley Memorial Garden is magnificent during the spring azalea bloom. Masses of purple, red, orange, pink and white dazzle the eye. Unfortunately, the season is too brief, and as I write, it's over. I missed it my last visit. My other favorite is during fall and winter when camellias are in bloom, with the added advantage that mosquitoes and gnats aren't around. In my opinion, there are too few camellias at the Wesley Memorial Garden. A few fine ones screen the Wesley United Methodist Church from the garden.

While visiting the Wesley Memorial Garden, you should also walk across the street to walk around the grounds of Christ Church, Frederica. The church has a very interesting history. The cemetery is a fine place to stroll, view iconic sculptures and aged vaults, and contemplate.

Historic Fort Frederica National Monument is also nearby. History buffs shouldn't miss it.

These and other worthwhile sites, such as the St. Simons lighthouse, Village, and beaches are only a short drive off I-95, and well-worth your time. Revive your spirit on St. Simons Island. Don't be in such a hurry. Stay the night.

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